Dr James Xavier (Ray Milland) has attended his optician for an eye test twice in three months. Although he's told he has perfect vision, his dream is to expand the capability of the human eye via the wonders of scientific experimentation.

Conducting his work in a private hospital, James' experiments are funded by a mysterious foundation. Worried about their investment, they send a representative - Diane (Diane Van der Vlis) - to check things out. James keenly shows her the progress he's made: he drops two drips of a new serum into the eyes of a test monkey and then conducts an exercise which demonstrates how the simian can now see through a solid white panel. Alas, the monkey dies seconds later, seemingly of fright.

Still, Diane leaves impressed with the scientist's progress, while James wastes no time in visiting his business partner Sam (Harold J Stone) in his office and share his findings with him. James wants the experiment performed on himself, to which Sam reluctantly agrees. In moments, James is seeing bright colours. Once they clear he realises he too can see through solid objects. Unfortunately he insists on another round of drops in his eyes, and ends up unconscious in hospital for his troubles.

With this in mind, Diane and Sam approach the foundation with news of James' findings. They sadly also have to disclose the fact that he's been hospitalised. Unsurprisingly, funding on the project is immediately shut down.

When James regains consciousness he discovers two things: he now has x-ray vision, being able to see through clothes, skin and the like; there will be no more funding to further his experiments. Sod it, he tells himself, and resolves to continue taking the serum in his eyes and hope it has a cumulative effect.

When Sam strongly opposes this a scuffle occurs in his office, resulting in Sam unfortunately falling through the window and hurtling to his death on the path below. The only witness, Diane, urges James to flee the scene before the police arrive. He does just this, but not before ensuring he takes the remaining serum with him.

Where would someone with such newfound powers go? Why, to a travelling fair of course, where he can reinvent himself as a sunglass-wearing mind reader named Mentallo. His act proves spectacularly popular with audiences, but arouses suspicion amongst his fellow fair workers. Before long, his boss Crane (Don Rickles) starts to see potential in James' "powers" and decides it may be more lucrative to market him as a healer.

But with the serum running low and its cumulative effect certainly working, to increasingly detrimental effect on James' ordinary sight and his moral standing, how long will it be until a crisis occurs?

Opening to the prolonged image of a bloody, disembodied eye, THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES (originally released as just X) then switches to bright psychedelic swirls and spooky sci-fi music during its opening titles, suggesting good trashy times ahead.

While it certainly is imbued with an enjoyable "B-movie" feel from the start, it doesn't take too long to realise that this a more thoughtful Roger Corman film. Based on a Ray Russell story (with additional screenwriting credit going to Robert Dillon), X may have been made in less than two weeks on a reported $30,000 budget, and it may begin like a gaudily colourful "mad scientist" flick, but it grows into a wider meditation on the quest for truth (James' ambition to see everything clearly, figuratively as well as literally) and tackles religious, ethical and existential issues along the way. While there's nothing to back this up, it also struck me how this film could parallel Lucio Fulci's THE BEYOND as being made by a filmmaker scared of losing the one thing that enables them to create: their vision (again, either figuratively or literally).

James initially uses his gift for good: he's able to diagnose a heart patient's condition in the hospital and later, at the fair, advises that a woman who's fallen off a ride has broken a leg and two ribs. During one entry into the journal his dictates into his tape recorder, he expresses no desire for fortune or fame. But, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and James' motivations soon take a turn.

Of course, this being a Corman film, he still keeps entertainment as his key priority. There is some humour - James at a party, secretly enjoying watching all the clothed dancers appearing naked to him; Corman regular Dick Miller enjoys an amusing cameo in which he unsuccessfully sets out to prove Mentallo is a fraud - and the pace is never anything but brisk. There's a car chase, there's a minor love interest in the form of Diane, there's a likeable but misguided protagonist who's never deprived of his humanity no matter what bad choices he makes ... Corman wants his audience to have fun, even when being more contemplative than usual, and as is the norm he achieves that without problem.

Milland is a great choice for the lead role. He's got that look of inner pain that lends itself much-needed empathy towards his character. All the cast are solid in a slightly exaggerated way. The FX are dated but fun, usually relying on dissolves for their desired effect. It all adds to the experience.

X is a fun film, made with real heart, and is unexpectedly cerebral at its core to boot.

Second Sight, fast becoming one of THE boutique labels for the UK, bring this classic to blu-ray for the first time on these shores. We were sent a screener disc for review purposes.

The onscreen title here is simply X (actually, it's "X"). Newly restored, this full 1080p HD presentation proffers the uncut film - 79 minutes and 14 seconds in length - in its original aspect ratio and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The picture quality is joyous. Sharp and detailed but without a hint of edge enhancement, this offers a pleasingly natural-looking playback with strong colours, authentic skin tones and layer of fine grain for that true filmic feel.

English mono audio is clean and consistent. Clear, easily readable subtitles are optional in English for the hard-of-hearing.

The disc opens to a static main menu page. From there, a pop-up scene-selection option allows access to the film via 12 chapters.

A plethora of bonus material begins with two audio commentary tracks.

The first of these comes courtesy of Corman. Before even introducing himself, he opens by remarking how odd it is to see his little film open up to the MGM logo - arguably, he reckons, the biggest film company out there at the time.

Corman is a wonderful host: warm, laidback and brimming with a gentle sense of humour. He's upfront about ideas that didn't work out (the original concept was to be a jazz musician who took too many drugs and developed x-ray vision; something Corman admits would've gone nowhere), and explains in several ways how he approaches his screenplays by thinking what his audience wants and how to give it to them in the most sensational way. He points out the cheap special effects (which I personally enjoy immensely) and surprisingly says he'd welcome a remake of the film which utilised modern FX technology. If that HAD to happen, the only person I'd trust to do it correctly would be David Cronenberg. From detailing how the film is deliberately structured so that key scenes are more impactful, to pointing out how costumes were specifically selected to complement Daniel Haller's colourful production design, to revealing that the film's title came before its lead character's name did, Corman is informative and amiable throughout. All of which makes this a marvellous listen.

So, film historian Tim Lucas has a big job ahead of him on audio commentary track number two. If you've heard any of Lucas' previous works - his commentaries on various Mario Bava titles are superb - you'll know that he's more than up for this task. Indeed, his is a fluent and constantly engaging chat track which proffers a wealth of background, contextual trivia. Citing X as Corman's "signature work" and quite possibly his masterpiece, Lucas' passion for the subject matter is not only obvious but contagious. Loaded with an incredible amount of information but never overly academic in approach, this track more than justifies its own existence and also comes highly recommended.

"The X Effect" is a new 14-minute video interview with the legendary filmmaker. Starting with THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER, Corman smiles often as he takes us through AIP's journey towards him helming X - THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES some years later in his trademark relaxed manner. There's a lovely original poster for the film sitting behind him as he chills out for the camera, presumably in his own home.

"American Gothic" is a new 23-minute interview with film scholar Kat Ellinger. She also comes over extremely well: approachable, upbeat and hugely knowledgeable about her subject. Pointing out that although X begins as a gimmicky William Castle-esque picture, it finds Corman at his most thoughtful and soon develops into perhaps his most existential film. Ellinger then moves into the influence novels such as "Frankenstein" and "Paradise Lost" had on horror films, and in particular Corman's opus. Again, this is a most excellent addition to the disc.

Next up is 6 minutes of fellow filmmaker Joe Dante's thoughts on X. He first saw the film in the cinema as part of a double-bill with Francis Ford Coppola's DEMENTIA 13 and has evidently been in love with it ever since. Again, it's great to witness someone speaking with such passion - but be warned, the disclaimer at the start isn't lying: watch the film first if you're new to it, because Joe doesn't care about giving key plot points away!

Then we have Mick Garris speaking over the original theatrical trailer for what is his "favourite Roger Corman" film. This 2 minute segment is culled from "Trailers from Hell".

We also get the above trailer, minus Garris' commentary and newly restored in HD.

The disc is encoded to region B.

The original 5-minute prologue is another nice inclusion here. It doesn't add anything plot-wise and is perhaps a tad overlong, but is interesting enough and certainly pushes Corman's "man shouldn't fuck with nature" message further.

The limited edition set also includes rigid slipcase packaging featuring new artwork by Graham Humphreys, a reversible poster with new and original artwork, and a book containing new writing by Jon Towlson and Allan Bryce. These were not available for review.

Highly recommended.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Second Sight